Monthly Archives: March 2022

Ex-Sen. Robinson sentenced to time served, supervised release

Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) speaks to reporters after the Senate voted to oust her from the chamber. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Former state Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) has been sentenced to time served and one year of supervised release following her conviction on federal wire fraud charges. Senate Republicans ousted Robinson last month in a move she denounced as a “procedural lynching.”

According to minutes of Friday’s court hearing, U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman also sentenced Robinson to undergo mental health testing and treatment, make third party risk notifications, and provide full financial disclosures. She was also prohibited from opening additional lines of credit without approval from probation officials.

A jury had returned guilty verdicts on four counts, but Lipman afterward dismissed two of the charges. Federal prosecutors are appealing the decision to the 6th Circuit.

State law prohibits people convicted of felonies from serving in the General Assembly. Robinson and her supporters argued her conviction wouldn’t become official until she was sentenced. But the Republicans supermajority nevertheless pressed ahead with making her the first sitting member expelled from the chamber since at least the Civil War.

The Shelby County Commission earlier this month named Rep. London Lamar (D-Memphis) to serve out the remainder of the term.

New TNJ alert: Will lawmaker’s guilty plea spur ethics overhaul?

Reps. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) and Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) are sworn into the 112th General Assembly on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

In this week’s print edition of The Tennessee Journal:

— It took months after the Tennessee Waltz bribery sting to overhaul ethics laws. Will latest scandal prompt quicker response?

— Legislative roundup: Residency requirements, AG confirmation, pipeline priority, and Confederate artifacts.

— From the campaign trail: Hargett’s chief of staff leaving to run Lee re-elect, Curcio hanging ‘em up.

— Obituaries: Former Shelby County sheriff and a perennial candidate.

Also: Lee isn’t sold on gas tax moratorium, Nashville DA finds no evidence former vax chief sent muzzle to herself, Curcio calls investigative reporter a “silly person,” and liquor store owners complain of getting hammered.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Report: Calfee says he heard Casada offer generalship during voucher impasse

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston) speaks with Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mt. Juliet) in the House chamber on April 23, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Kent Calfee tells the Tennessee Lookout’s Sam Stockard he heard then-House Speaker Glen Casada propose a generalship to Democratic Rep. John Mark Windle in return for backing a controversial school voucher proposal in 2019.

With a vote knotted at 49-49 in 2019, Casada infamously kept the board open for 45 minutes to try to persuade someone to switch their position and keep first-year Gov. Bill Lee’s signature bill from an embarrassing defeat.

Calfee (R-Kingston) said he was standing on the balcony outside the House chamber when he heard Casada (R-Franklin) make the pitch to Windle, a Livingston Democrat who is a colonel in the Tennessee National Guard.

“I heard Casada say, ‘I can’t promote you, but the governor can. I’ll call the governor,’” Calfee told the Lookout.

“Now, the governor and I have discussed that, because he also, he called me up to the office,” Calfee recounted. “He said, ‘You know, you’re kind of talking bad about me.’ I said I told the truth.”

Lee was asked by reporters this week about the alleged offer of a generalship to Windle. He said he didn’t know anything about it.

Windle didn’t change his opposition to the voucher bill. But the measure passed after Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) agreed to flip in favor of the bill after being assured his home county would be exempted from the measure.

Read Stockard’s full report here.

Registry refers Casada, Cothren probes to Williamson County prosecutor

Registry member Tom Lawless and then-Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) confer on the House floor before Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is referring its investigations into former House Speaker Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren, to Williamson County prosecutors.

The move comes after former Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) pleaded guilty last week to a federal wire fraud charge over the creation of a front company called Phoenix Solutions, which obtained contracts to design, print, and send political mailers on behalf of Republican lawmakers.

Smith’s charging document made thinly-veiled references to Casada and Cothren, alleging they were heavily involved in the scheme.

The motion also sent prosecutors the case of the Faith Family Freedom Fund. The PAC’s treasurer testified to the panel in January that she had founded it at the behest of Cothren and had no further role in its activities. The outfit proceeded to lob attacks at then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in his unsuccessful re-election bid in 2020.

Registry member Tom Lawless made the motion to involve Williamson County prosecutors, arguing it would be the appropriate venue because it covers Casada’s home area. He also raised concerns the issue could be “weaponized” amid a contested Democratic primary for Nashville district attorney. It’s unclear whether Williamson County DA Kim Helper will recuse herself from the case.

Hagerty, Blackburn endorse Taylor’s bid to succeed Kelsey (UPDATED)

In a somewhat unusual move, Tennessee U.S. Sens. Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn are making endorsements in the Republican primary to succeed indicted state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown).

Hagerty (R-Nashville) tweeted Wednesday morning that he is backing Brent Taylor, a funeral home operator who recently resigned as chair of the Shelby County Election Commission. Blackburn (R-Brentwood) is also endorsing Taylor, per a news release.

Kelsey announced recently that he won’t seek another term in the Senate to pursue an “exciting change in my personal life.” Kelsey is awaiting trial in January 2023 on federal criminal charges related to a failed bid for Congres in 2016.

Another announced candidate in the District 31 race is Brandon Toney, a Germantown nurse practitioner who has called Kelsey “embarrassing for all of us.” Former Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd has also expressed interest in running for the GOP nomination. House Commerce Chair Kevin Vaughan (R-Collierville) was heavily encouraged to run for the seat before Kelsey’s retirement announcement, but decided to run for another term in the lower chamber.

Site plan for Ford plant gets green light from Megasite Authority

The Blue Oval City plans superimposed on a map of the West Tenenssee Megasite. (Illustration by The Tennessee Jounral)

The Megasite Authority of West Tennessee has approved the site plan for Ford Motor Co.’s $5.6 billion electric pickup truck and battery plant in Haywood County.

The Daily Memphian reports the company only needs to secure an environmental permit before it can begin preparing the Blue Oval City project for construction. Ford has chosen Detroit-based Walbridge as its general contractor.

The Megasite Authority previously approved a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement by which the company will remit $8 million by 2030 and $11.5 million by 2051.

The 3,600-acre parcel of land is being leased to Ford and SK Innovation for $1. Under a clawback provision, 90% of the committed 5,760 jobs must be filled within a decade. Otherwise the companies would have to pay back a portion of a $500 million grant from the state, plus the $175 million value of the land, the Associated Press reported last month.

Carr defends internal poll, won’t supply crosstabs

Former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) announces his U.S. Senate bid in January 2013.

Former state Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) is objecting to questions The Tennessee Journal raised in this week’s print edition about an internal poll conducted on behalf of his campaign for Rutherford County mayor.

We observed pollster Triton had included a line about 180 of 455 respondents from a list supplied by the client, with the remainder coming from the company’s own voter file (an unusual arrangement, according to other campaign consultants we consulted). We then noted that despite being the source of the list that generated 180 responses, only 144 out of the total sample backed Carr in the survey.

Carr says it’s unfair for us to have said his list was “handpicked,” saying he merely forwarded the entire Rutherford County voter database created by the local administrator of elections.

Triton told us its clients sometimes provide a list of contacts to invite to respond to its internal polls.

“To assess possible differences in the client list versus the standard voter file we obtain, we breakout the results on crosstabs so the results can be compared between the two list sources,” a company official told us in an email earlier this week. “That is the purpose for the variable you are seeing in the topline results.  Take a look at the crosstabs and you can review the differences between the list sources.”

Update: A company official confirms it received the Rutherford County voter file from Carr and used Republican-leaning individuals in its automated survey.

So we asked Carr to supply the crosstabs to show how many of the 180 respondents from the sample he supplied backed his bid compared with the responses from the remaining 275 people from the company’s voter file.

He declined.

“Your attempt to get the crosstabs to review the methodology appears to be nothing more than a ruse,” Carr wrote in an email.

New TNJ alert: Smith’s guilty plea rocks Capitol, voucher expansion fails, and part 2 of the pharmacy fight

Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson) speaks to reporters in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

This week’s Tennessee Journal is out. Here’s what’s in it:

— Ex-state GOP chair Robin Smith pleads guilty to kickback plot, resigns from legislature.

— Court documents contain thinly veiled references to participation by former House Speaker Glen Casada and his onetime chief of staff, Cade Cothren.

— Prosecution team in Smith plea is same as is handling case against state Sen. Brian Kelsey.

— Legislative roundup: Voucher expansion fails, independent pharmacies could gain major boost in dispensing fees from PBMs, and your discount on buying wine by the case could be going away.

Also: Glen Casada feels a cold wind, Democrats’ redistricting lawsuit won’t get the hurry-up, Tres Wittum not bound lower chamber requirement to step down if he runs for Congress, and not all of Joe Carr’s handpicked poll respondents were on board with … Joe Carr.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Grip and grin: News photo shows figures at center of federal investigation

An August 31, 2021, photo in the Elk Valley Times shows Cade Cothren, the disgraced former chief of staff to then-House Speaker Glen Casada, at a ribbon cutting for a new location of his family’s Highway 55 restaurant chain in Fayetteville. Cothren is joined by Rep. Todd Warner (R-Lewisburg) and Ava Korby, the daughter of suspended legislative staffer Nadine Korby.

Cothren, Warner, Casada, and the elder Korby were among the subjects of FBI searches in January 2021. So was Rep. Robin Smith (R-Hixson), who pleaded guilty this week to a federal wire fraud charge over the creation of a front company called Phoenix Solutions, which obtained contracts to design, print, and send political mailers on behalf of Republican lawmakers.

According to the charging document, Cothren posed as a man calling himself Matthew Phoenix. He and an unnamed girlfriend calling herself “Candice” allegedly corresponded on the company’s behalf. A source with knowledge of the investigation tells The Tennessee Journal the girlfriend in question was Ava Korby.

Sydney Friedopfer, another woman once romantically involved with Cothren, testified to the Registry of Election Finance in January that she had created a PAC called the Faith Family Freedom Fund on his behalf. She told the panel she didn’t know anything about the group’s subsequent attacks on then-Rep. Rick Tillis (R-Lewisburg) in his primary campaign against Warner.

Warner spent $75,500 on a vendor called Dixieland Strategies of Rainbow City, Ala., which had never before done work in Tenenssee and didn’t appear to be registered as a business. Warner told reporters later he couldn’t remember whom he had dealt with at the outfit. Rainbow raised eyebrows in the Tillis race for using the same postal code out of Chattanooga as Phoenix Solutions and the Faith Family Freedom Fund. Another campaign vendor told reporters that Cothren had commissioned him to do work that was billed to both the FFFF and Phoenix Solutions.

No one other than Smith has been charged so far.

3-judge panel: No need to rush on redistricting lawsuit

Rep. John Mark Windle (D-Livingston), left, walks to look at a proposed House redistricting map on Dec. 17, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

A three-judge panel has declined a request by the plaintiffs in a Democratic Party lawsuit to expedite proceedings. The judges said they weren’t convinced they had the authority to hurry up the case and that “expediting these proceedings as requested would not allow the important constitutional questions to be fully and meaningfully considered and adjudicated on the merits.”

The lawsuit claims the state House maps could have been drawn with fewer than 30 split counties and that the Senate plan violated a constitutional requirement for districts to be consecutively numbered in Nashville.

Here’s the order:

This reapportionment case was filed on February 23, 2022. Plaintiffs Akilah Moore, Telise Turner, and Gary Wright are suing Defendants Governor Bill Lee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, and Tennessee Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins in their official capacities, claiming that the State House and Senate maps are unconstitutionally drawn. Plaintiffs’ unverified Complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. On March 1, 2022, the Tennessee Supreme Court entered an Order designating the undersigned as the Three Judge Panel (“Panel”) to hear this case.

On March 2, 2022, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Motion to Expedite”). On March 3, 2022, Defendants filed Defendants’ Response in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Response in Opposition”). On March 4, 2022, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs’ Reply in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion to Set Hearing and Expedited Briefing Schedule on Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the Alternative, for Expedited Trial (“Plaintiffs’ Reply”). After conferring, the Panel entered an Order on March 3, 2022, setting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Expedite for a telephonic hearing on March 7, 2022 at 2:30 p.m.

After considering the Motion to Expedite, the record, and the arguments of counsel for the parties, the Panel respectfully DENIES Plaintiffs’ Motion to Expedite on the following grounds:

1.            The Panel was not convinced that it had authority to expedite the proceedings in the fashion requested in the motion.

2.            Given all the attendant circumstances, including Defendants’ preliminary estimate that they needed to develop expert proof to defend Plaintiffs’ constitutional challenges and the possibility that discovery might be necessary, the Panel concludes that expediting these proceedings as requested would not allow the important constitutional questions to be fully and meaningfully considered and adjudicated on the merits.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

/Signed/

RUSSELL T. PERKINS, Chief Judge

J. MICHAEL SHARP Judge

STEVEN W. MARONEY, Chancellor